May 8, 2020

Rangers prospect Lauri Pajuniemi in military service

Pajuniemi (AOP)

Rangers prospect Lauri Pajuniemi has swapped his black outfit for a grey one (temporarily). The 20-year old winger who surprised everyone with his amazing performance in Liiga last season, started his military training a month ago at the Santahamina barracks, situated on an island off the coast of Helsinki.

Today, he started a short break and traveled back to Turku where he continued to train and get in shape for the new season. “It is good to be in the army now, so you can focus on the essentials again in the autumn”, said Pajuniemi. The food isn’t great, he said. But it could be worse, said the winger in an interview with his team.

“I started training again directly after the season ended. I took 1 week off. There are a lot of other Liiga players doing their military service with me so we can do some stuff together – keeping our distances of course. It gives it a competitive aspect a bit. The facilities in the military are very good for professional athletes to train. We can do stuff every day. But in general I‘ve been doing the same things as in previous years”

Finnish Military Service

Military service in Finland is a minimum of 6 months but can be split up into smaller portions. A lot of NHL players have done so in the past, including Erik Haula, Sebastian Aho, Antti Raanta, Mikko Koivu and Sasha Barkov. They have until the age of 28 years to start their military service, which brings up a question some of you may have. “What about Kaapo Kakko?”

When Kakko moved to New York, he had just turned 18 and was only eligible for military service for a few months. While we don’t have official confirmation, we can assume he has not started his service yet. If he does decide to do so, the most likely scenario is that he completes it a similar way, splitting up te 6 months of service into 2 parts, and will spend 2 off-seasons in Finland to complete them. He won’t be alone during his military service, as a lot of Liiga players opt to complete their service during the off-season. Lauri Pajuniemi mentioned this as well.

With Kakko there’s a possibility he will only do a shortened service as his contributions to the national team can be interpreted as service to your country, helping the Finnish Lions win gold in the World Championships, only the 3rd time in Finland’s history.

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What’s next? When can we see Lauri in blue?

Expectations for Pajuniemi this upcoming season are even higher, coming off his best season yet. The panemic has also affected life in Finland and the young winger is bored. “You can’t do anything. Everything is closed”. With the off-season preparations starting soon, Pajuniemi will be switching between military service and training camp with TPS.

With 2 years of exclusive NHL rights remaining (drafted in 2018, 18- and 19-year old players drafted out of Europe have their rights retained for 4 full years), the Rangers are in no hurry to sign Pajuniemi. With the way the team is structured, it would be wise for Gorton to spread out the contract extensions. Signing Pajuniemi in 2021, and loaning him to TPS for another year seems to be the most likely scenario in my opinion. It’s what I call “The Jesper Fast route”. With Pajuniemi being an early birthday, drafted the 2nd time eligible, and Jesper Fast being a late birthday drafted the first time eligible, their situations are basically the same after being drafted. 18 years of age at the start of the SHL/Liiga season.

One thing is for certain: Pajuniemi will be ready for the new season. After all, he had a lethal shot before joining the army .

PS: A special thanks to my friend Tuomas Naukkarinen, who helped with the translation of the video interview.

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